Texas Penal Code 19.04 – Manslaughter
WHAT IS MANSLAUGHTER IN TEXAS?
In Texas, manslaughter is the reckless killing of another. Criminal recklessness is subjective awareness of a “substantial and unjustifiable risk,” and disregarding that risk. To be charged and convicted of manslaughter in Texas, a person need not intend to kill, or even hurt anyone. Unintentionally killing someone as a result of driving dangerously is commonly charged as manslaughter.
- What are examples of manslaughter in Texas?
- Pinning the victim to the ground during a fist fight by putting his full bodyweight on the victim’s head and neck for several minutes, causing death.
- Driving around a truck on an unimproved shoulder through heavy traffic and striking a cyclist.
- Colliding into the back of the victim’s car while traveling 20 to 30 miles over the speed limit.
- Continuously punching the victim in the head and face, causing a subdural and subarachnoid hemorrhage that killed the victim the next day.
WHAT IS THE MANSLAUGHTER LAW IN TEXAS?
Tex. Penal Code § 19.04. MANSLAUGHTER.
(a) A person commits an offense if he recklessly causes the death of an individual.
(b) An offense under this section is a felony of the second degree.
WHAT IS THE PENALTY CLASS FOR MANSLAUGHTER IN TEXAS?
Manslaughter is a second degree felony, punishable by two to 20 years in prison.
WHAT IS THE PUNISHMENT RANGE FOR MANSLAUGHTER IN TEXAS?
The punishment range for manslaughter, a second degree felony, is two to 20 years in prison, and a maximum fine of $10,000.
WHAT ARE THE PENALTIES FOR MANSLAUGHTER IN TEXAS?
A person charged with manslaughter may be eligible for probation after a conviction, or deferred adjudication without a conviction, under certain circumstances.
- Is a person charged with manslaughter eligible for deferred adjudication in Texas? Yes. A person charged with manslaughter is eligible for deferred adjudication after pleading guilty or nolo contendere (“no contest”). The judge may defer finding the person guilty, and place the person on deferred adjudication for no more than 10 years.
- Is a person convicted of manslaughter eligible for probation? Yes. In Texas, as long as the person did not use a deadly weapon during the offense, he or she may be placed on probation after a manslaughter conviction by a judge or jury. If a jury’s punishment recommendation is ten years or less in prison, and the person has not been previously convicted of a felony, the judge will follow that recommendation.
- When will a person convicted of manslaughter be eligible for parole, if sentenced to prison? If a person is convicted of manslaughter (without using a deadly weapon) and sentenced to prison, the person will be eligible for parole after serving a quarter of their sentence. If the jury or judge finds a deadly weapon was used, the person will be required to serve half their sentence before being eligible for parole.
- What are the collateral consequences of a manslaughter conviction? A felony conviction causes a person to lose his or her right to vote. One may also not own a gun for at least five years after being finally released from parole, or community supervision. Even after five years, convicted felons may only have a gun inside their own home.
WHAT ARE THE DEFENSES TO MANSLAUGHTER IN TEXAS?
The justification defenses are available in manslaughter prosecutions.
- What if a person recklessly kills another in self-defense? A person is justified in using deadly force against another when he reasonably believes deadly force is immediately necessary to protect against the other’s use or attempted use of unlawful deadly force. The person need not prove the victim was actually using deadly force—a person has the right to defend himself from apparent danger as he reasonably apprehends it.Self-defense is available in a manslaughter prosecution, because the focus is on the person’s motives and level of force used, not the outcome of that force.
In Alonzo v. State, a defendant and victim were prison inmates who got into a fight. The defendant testified the victim attacked him with a weapon, so he grabbed a metal spike to defend himself. The victim tackled him, they struggled, and the victim was stabbed during the struggle. He was entitled to raise self-defense in his manslaughter prosecution. Alonzo v. State, 353 S.W.3d 778 (Tex. Crim. App. 2011).
- What is the mistake-of-fact defense in Texas? If a person mistakenly formed a reasonable belief about a fact that negated the kind of culpability required to commit the alleged offense, he or she may raise the mistake-of-fact defense. See Tex. Penal Code 8.02.
In Curry v. State, a driver hit a cyclist and kept going. The cyclist died, and the driver was convicted of failure to stop and render aid. He claimed he did not know he hit anything, but the trial court refused a mistake-of-fact instruction. Because drivers involved in accidents must stop to determine whether anyone else was involved, or hurt, a driver’s mistaken belief that he had not hit anything would negate the required mental culpability. The jury should be permitted to decide whether it believed the defense. Curry v. State, 622 S.W.3d 302 (Tex. Crim. App. 2019).
WHAT IS THE STATUTE OF LIMITATIONS FOR MANSLAUGHTER IN TEXAS?
There is no limitation period for manslaughter. A person may be prosecuted at any time for the offense.
MANSLAUGHTER IN TEXAS
Manslaughter is killing someone as a result of reckless conduct, and is often used as a lesser-included charge of murder. Criminal recklessness requires the person to be aware of a substantial and unjustifiable risk to another’s life, and subsequently disregarding that risk.
TEXAS MANSLAUGHTER COURT CASES
The case law regarding manslaughter in Texas illustrates acts of criminal recklessness.
In Estrada v. State, the defendant and victim were in a pool hall when they began fighting. The defendant had the victim pinned face down on the ground in a chokehold. The defendant further restrained the victim by putting his body weight on the victim’s head and neck. Witnesses repeatedly told the defendant the victim was tapping out, and could not breathe. He died from oxygen deprivation, caused by the defendant’s reckless act of restraining him. The defendant was convicted of manslaughter, which was affirmed. Restraining another in a manner that deprives him of oxygen is an inherently reckless act. 629 S.W.3d 755 (Tex. App.—San Antonio 2021, no pet.).
In Britain v. State, and its companion case, Brasse v. State, a father and step-mother were convicted of manslaughter after the eight-year-old victim died of an acute appendicitis. The previous day, she complained of a stomach ache, vomited, and had diarrhea. The jury found the defendants recklessly failed to seek medical treatment, but the appellate courts reversed. Mere lack of foresight, stupidity, irresponsibility, thoughtlessness, ordinary carelessness, however serious the consequences may happen to be, does not rise to the level of criminal recklessness. 412 S.W.3d 518 (Tex. Crim. App. 2013); 392 S.W.3d 239 (Tex. App.—San Antonio 2012, no pet.).
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WE FIGHT FOR DISMISSAL
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DRIVING WHILE INTOXICATED .15
Driving facts involved failing to maintain a single lane and speeding. Client refused breath test and forced law enforcement to obtain search warrant for blood. Blood test result was not used after challenge from Defense, and State waived and abandoned charge.
DRIVING UNDER THE INFLUENCE
Client was a college student, worried about the collateral consequences of an alcohol offense. After negotiation and review of the traffic stop, the case was dismissed. Client received no criminal conviction. The charge was later expunged and deleted from client’s record.
DRIVING WHILE INTOXICATED .15+
Client was involved in minor accident. Client was at fault in accident. A young executive, client was concerned that a criminal conviction for DWI would result in termination. After review of the traffic stop, it was clear the officer lacked probable cause for arrest. State eventually dismissed DWI charge. Client received no criminal conviction.
Client, a military veteran, was facing up to one year in jail. State could not prove intoxication by alcohol, and was prepared to proceed on loss of use by marijuana. After challenging the State to prove that marijuana was ingested at or near time of driving, and that marijuana impaired client’s driving, the State dismissed the case on the day of trial.
DRIVING UNDER THE INFLUENCE
Driving facts involved a false claim by police that taillight was out. After challenging the reasonable suspicion for the traffic stop, the State was forced to dismiss the case when video did not match police report. Client has since expunged arrest, and has no criminal record.
DRIVING UNDER THE INFLUENCE
Client is a public school teacher and faced immediate termination upon conviction. The facts of the case were bad. State was unwilling to budge in negotiation, and matter was set for trial – the last shot at avoiding a conviction and preserving client’s livelihood. State was forced to dismiss on day of trial. Client has no criminal record, and has since expunged the DWI arrest.
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